Reposted from Laura Taylor’s Forbes Agency Council page
Last year, our team held the initial kickoff meeting for a business proposal in a new practice area for our company. Two of our team members weren’t sure which one of them was to take the lead, and when the draft proposal was shared with leadership, it was disjointed. It quickly became clear that the team hadn’t worked cohesively and the process was broken. Now what? We had to take a look back at what broke and when, but how?
What Is A Retrospective?
Retrospectives are a critical part of the Agile process that allow organizations to look back and review how they got work done and what process elements could be enhanced or improved.
The goal is to gain a better understanding of your successes and your deficiencies in the continuous effort to become more effective and productive. In every retrospective, it’s important to keep the session blame-free and focus purely on the timeline, process and work produced. Start by creating an ideal environment for a positive exchange of information to allow for progressive change to occur.
Fresh And Different Perspectives Can Provide Multiple Solutions
Retrospectives can pull together all levels of employees to identify areas of success and weakness. When done effectively, they can spark honest feedback, critical discussions and present various actions to take.
The facilitator sets the tone from the beginning. This person is usually someone who wasn’t involved in a specific project and can play a non-partisan role. We regularly schedule retrospectives every 2-3 weeks, as there is always a process or procedure that we can improve. We typically select our topics by looking at our Kanban board tickets. If your team doesn’t currently have a Kanban model, don’t worry — take a poll of current hot topics among team members and conclude which ones you want to focus on for discussion.
Once completed, we review our retrospective outcomes and put a plan in place on how to evaluate them. Measuring the value of your retrospectives makes it apparent how important they are to forward momentum.
While all retrospectives involve reviewing processes and work, there are different types based on intended outcomes, project length, team players and timeframe.
The Sailboat retrospective is a great visualization tool that we typically use when we have new team members and want to bring the larger team together to discuss growth opportunities or other high-level goals. An example of this would be to address annual organizational growth plans and suggested areas of focus or goals for the year.
In this retrospective, we draw a sailboat, rocks, clouds and an island on a flip chart. The island typically represents the goals we want to achieve. The rocks are risks that could be encountered as the team approaches the vision, while the anchor represents anything that is going to slow the team down from reaching the goal(s). The clouds and wind represent anything that will push us toward achieving the goal(s).
We brainstorm ideas for the different areas and write them down on post-it notes that we place on each object. After reading aloud our ideas, we discuss collaboratively how we can continue to do what was written in the cloud areas. Next, we focus on the greatest issue slowing us down and work together to create solutions to address it. Finally, we determine what next steps must be taken to fix the problem before closing out the retrospective.
The value of the retrospective is using time efficiently to arrive at conclusions that will ultimately move the organization forward. Retrospectives may take an hour or two but no more, so no half-day offsites are needed to figure out some critical decisions.
The Timeline retrospective can be helpful for looking back at new business proposals and client engagements — especially if we need to dissect a project where the outcome wasn’t what we had anticipated or wanted. We can look at the timeline to piece together what happened, where any breakdowns may have occurred, or to learn why something didn’t work as well as we had hoped. We also occasionally use this approach to look back on successes.
A timeline retrospective should be used when reflecting over a longer period, usually somewhere between 60-90 days. The facilitator draws a timeline that has dates or milestones on a horizontal line. Make sure the line is long enough, as there will be a lot of feedback placed on the timeline — even with a small team!
When the retrospective starts, the meeting facilitator draws a happy and sad face in a vertical stack with one above the other. Then, the facilitator will plot each identified milestone on the horizontal line and ask team members to place a dot next to the happy or sad face below, indicating how they felt about the workflow at that point in the project. Eventually, there will be a timeline of milestones with dots below corresponding to happy or sad. From here, the team can have a candid and facilitated discussion on what went wrong and create action items for the future.
While more subtle, your clients can also benefit from your retrospectives. As we continuously put in the effort to become more efficient and find areas of deficiencies, we end up saving our clients money on work that we do for them.
When we identify duplicative work or time-saving processes, we can produce better work in a quicker amount of time. We also take a step back from the work itself in our retrospectives to make sure we’re consistently contributing to our client’s strategic objectives and vision rather than just pushing out work products for the sake of simply creating something.
If a campaign or effort isn’t moving the needle for your client, its good to hold a retrospective to explore different approaches, which helps recommend a shift in strategy and/or refocus your efforts. Whether it’s clients or stakeholders, demonstrating creative thinking around opportunities for continuous improvement is always a win.